Alabama doctors fighting politicization of COVID vaccines as cases skyrocket – AL.com

The latest effort in Huntsville to promote the need for COVID-19 vaccinations came Thursday with three doctors speaking for almost an hour on a Facebook Live event designed to swat down misinformation about the vaccine and again advocate for getting the shot.

The doctors fielded questions from online viewers with concerns and inquiries ranging from where did the doctors get their information to trust the vaccine to the impact it may have on procreation.

The elephant in the virtual room, however, was the politicization of the vaccine. A CNN report in May illustrated the partisan divide over the vaccine – the network reported that 100 percent of Democrats in Congress said they had received the shot while 44 percent of Republicans said they were inoculated.

Last week, CNN reported that while 17 more Republicans said they had been vaccinated since May, nearly half of the Republicans in Congress would not say if they had been vaccinated. The report said 54 percent of Republicans confirmed they had received their shots.

As the delta variant of the virus has vaulted Alabama – the lowest-vaccinated state in the union — to the highest percent positive test rate in the nation, doctors are amplifying the urgency.

Get the shot – whether Republican or Democrat.

Said Dr. Aruna Arora, a neurologist and president of the Madison County Medical Society, “Unfortunately, looking at some of the data that has come out, we do know that a lot of the demographic of the state has been tuning into some of the networks that are sharing some of the information that we as the physicians, and this is apolitical, but this is the physicians representing science, we feel somewhat concerned that vulnerable patients are somewhat being taken advantage of by the information that is being presented to them. And I say that with the utmost compassion.

Fox News has come under the most criticism for promoting misinformation about the vaccine and observers have noted in recent weeks that the network has shifted its perspective as cases have again started to surge across the country.

Arora continued with this anecdote:

“I remember one particular elderly female who was literally trembling,” she said. “She was trembling because she knew COVID was running rampant but she started to cry because she was tuned in to some media stations and she was terrified of getting the vaccine because of all the reasons she felt that the vaccine would also be detrimental to her health. So therefore, an innocent human being was just paralyzed for making a decision for herself.”

Arora said the issue of wearing masks, like the vaccine, has been victimized by political perspectives. Some school systems around the state are requiring masks for students and teachers as classes begin next month. Gov. Kay Ivey has declined to push for a statewide mask mandate for students who are largely too young to receive the vaccine. Alabama Republican Senate candidates Katie Britt and Mo Brooks have made statements on social media opposing the requiring of masks in schools.

“It’s the same thing here that applies with the masks,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think this issue has not just been looked at scientifically but it has been politicized.”

But Ivey has received national acclaim in recent days – including a shoutout from President Joe Biden — about her strong words on the spread of the delta variant, telling reporters last week, “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks.”

Long a proponent of the vaccine who received her first shot in December 2020, the comments were still Ivey’s strongest endorsement of the shot to date.

As Alabama struggles with its low vaccination rate and high increase in cases, Ivey and Sen. Tommy Tuberville have angled to spin the politicization over the vaccine on its head – from a detriment to an asset.

In an opinion column this week in The Washington Post, the governor invoked former President Donald Trump’s work to bring the vaccines into existence as a lure for Republicans to get the shot.

“The good news is we have something that has proved helpful – safe and effective vaccines, which were developed in record time, and we can thank former President Donald Trump and all those involved in Operation Warp Speed for making this medical miracle happen,” Ivey wrote.

In a Senate hearing last week, Tuberville said the Biden administration should be acknowledging the efforts of the Trump administration in developing the vaccine.

“A large part of Americans … they’re not going to take the vaccine (unless Trump’s contribution is realized),” Tuberville said at the hearing in questioning Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“No doubt, the (Trump) administration deserves a considerable amount of credit for the effort that was put into Operation Warp Speed that was able to allow not only the rapid development and testing but also the implementation of the vaccines,” Fauci answered.

Beyond that political debate, doctors said they run into other skeptics reluctant to take the shot. Dr. Roger Smalligan, an internist and regional dean of UAB School of Medicine in Huntsville, said he participated in a telethon recently in which he took 40 calls from the public.

“Some of the questions were, ‘Is it a conspiracy?’” he said. “So many different conspiracy things came up. And I said, ‘Look, I read the medical literature, I know how these were developed. I’ve received them, my family has received them. The data looks really, really good for safety. They are really good for protecting people from serious disease and not being hospitalized.

One online viewer Thursday asked if the vaccines could lead to sterility. Smalligan pointed to the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that urged everyone to get the vaccines – even those who were pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.

The doctors stressed that while there may be breakthrough cases – positive tests for those who are fully vaccinated – or rare side effects from the vaccine, studies and real-world results have proven the vaccine to be safe. Dr. Kym Middleton, a Huntsville pediatric hospitalist, said that clinical studies are continuing on the vaccines as part of an ongoing vetting.

If the vaccine had dangerous side effects, those dangers would have presented themselves by now, Arora said.

“For all of these years that we’ve had vaccinations (for other viruses), the time where you see the side effects is within those first few months,” she said. “So many people across the globe have received this vaccine. If you can think at the trial, which had safety data before we were receiving this vaccine, and all of us who went first to get the vaccine as more people in the study, it’s been more than the months where you usually see side effects.”

Smalligan agreed.

“The COVID vaccines have been given to over a billion people in the world,” Smalligan said. “The safety record is phenomenal. Does that mean there’s not a one-in-a-million thing that’s happening for each of these vaccines? No. Stuff happens. But we know what happens when people get COVID.”

More than 11,500 deaths in Alabama have been attributed to COVID-19 and, nationwide, more than 609,000 people have died. Smalligan said his own research revealed that since the first Alabamians could be fully vaccinated, which he determined was mid-January, 99.9 percent of the COVID-related deaths were people who were not vaccinated.

“One of our experts at UAB gave us the data that 95 percent of people going into the hospital because they’re sick from COVID are people who have not been vaccinated,” Smalligan said. “Is there a very small group that has been vaccinated and gets sick? Yes.

“I had one in the hospital last week, wonderful lady, she had every risk factor for dying from COVID known to man. She had gotten the vaccine. She was one of the unfortunate few who ended up getting the disease. We took care of her in the hospital with a little bit of oxygen for about a week and then she went home. And she lived. That woman, I don’t believe, would be with us. She would have died had she not had that extra protection of the vaccine.

“It makes the disease so much milder in the person who has had the vaccine if you end up getting it.”

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Alabama doctors fighting politicization of COVID vaccines as cases skyrocket – AL.com

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